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Growing ag and protecting the environment

By Michael Guerin - posted Thursday, 30 November 2017


Clearing land for agricultural production in Queensland is not the “crisis” that inner Melbourne nephrologist Katherine Barraclough makes it out to be.

Farmers only manage vegetation on their land to sustainably produce high quality food for dinner tables in Queensland, Australia and across the world, yet we are frequently attacked over how we produce this food by often well-meaning but ill-informed observers.

Despite the tired old analogies about how many football fields are cleared every minute, the facts are that just 0.23 per cent of the total land area of Queensland was cleared in 2015/16. That’s right, less than one quarter of one per cent. And two thirds of that was to manage regrowth from previously cleared areas.

That’s the figures from the same Statewide Landcover and Tree Study (SLATS) report Ms Barraclough quotes, just put into more perspective.

Claims of “deforestation” are completely misleading as the vegetation management debate has absolutely nothing to do with state forests and national parks, and is more about how open shrub and woodlands are managed on private and leasehold properties.

Further, the SLATS report only looks at half the story by reporting clearing statistics while failing to accurately measure and report how much vegetation has regrown in the same period – a flaw in the data the Queensland Government itself has acknowledged. It is only reasonable that this be considered too.

Despite claims that vegetation management is the main cause of a loss of native wildlife, the Threatened Species Commissioner told ABC Radio National recently that “based on the science, the biggest threats in Australia to our wildlife aren’t land clearing”, and are instead feral cats, foxes and fire.  We need to look at and manage all the contributing factors to get successful outcomes.

In addition, Ms Barraclough ignores the fact that ground cover not tree cover is the best tool to fight erosion. Well-managed pasture will ensure slower rain runoff, rather than concentrate it into fast-flowing channels.

The reality is farmers love and care for their land and know how to manage it responsibly.

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The vast majority of farmers are true environmentalists who are directly engaged in conservation activities like biodiversity projects, nature refuges, tree planting and the voluntary retention of vegetation that could be cleared – all for little or no market reward.

Onerous and poorly targeted vegetation management laws can potentially have the perverse outcome of increasing environmental degradation, reducing vegetation diversity and reducing the conservation capacity of farmers by compromising their ability to invest in these activities.

Like all Australians, farmers want to see the Great Barrier Reef preserved and protected for future generations, and we’re doing our bit to improve water quality by adopting best management practices.

More than 2000 producers across Queensland managing more than 28 million hectares of land have adopted the Grazing BMP program to benchmark their business against the best industry standards using the best available science.

Queensland farmers are sick and tired of vegetation management laws being used as a political football or for election stunts, and just want to get on with the job of producing high-quality food and fibre.

Just two days out from the Queensland Election, the ABC aired unsubstantiated allegations from the Wilderness Society about illegal clearing in Far North Queensland, despite the fact the farmer involved maintains he had all the permits he needed to clear the land for an avocado plantation and to drought proof his property. The story featured footage, potentially illegally obtained, from a drone invading the privacy of the farmer and his family.

The well-known and well-respected farming family have since been the subject of arson attacks, vandalism and verbal abuse.

Enough is enough. Let’s cut the hysteria and selective use of statistics, stop demonising farmers and instead look at how we can all work together to ensure good outcomes for both the environment and primary producers.

The future of Queensland and the viability of our regional and rural areas depends on it.

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About the Author

Michael Guerin is the Chief Executive Officer of AgForce Queensland, a peak representative body for Queensland’s beef, sheep and grains producers.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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